Cancer Survival Day: A tale of blessed cancer survival against odds

By Kelly Clark

Early detection of cancer and support are the most effective tools in fighting it, say survivors

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After finding a lump in her breast in November 2013, it took three months for Dubai-based Indian expatriate Umaima Tinwala to seek the advice of her doctor back home in India.

“No matter how aware you think you are about your health, finding a lump like that is scary. That fear led to me making excuses about getting a check-up, I just kept saying I was busy,” she tells Khaleej Times.

But after a breast cancer diagnosis in February 2014 at the age of 37, Tinwala is now in remission from cancer, but says early detection is so important.

“My tumour was only 1.5cm long but it was very aggressive. If I left it any longer, I think cancer definitely would have beaten me. But today I am a survivor and my message is, get checked and don’t make excuses.”

Tinwala is a member of Dubai-based cancer support group, Blessed.

On Saturday, it celebrated its one year anniversary in Dubai to coincide with National Cancer Survivors Day today.

After meeting back in 2015 and sharing their story of survival, cancer survivors Lama Riachi (ovarian cancer survivor) and Josefina Abaya (breast cancer survivor) decided to launch the Whatsapp-based support group.

Primarily formed for sharing healthy tips for healing, the original three-member group has since blossomed into a 100-strong network of cancer patients, survivors and support workers who now share daily tips and messages of support.

For both women, support was one of their biggest allies when it came to battling their own disease, so to form the group made absolute sense.

Giving “comfort and support” to cancer patients throughout the city, Riachi said Blessed’s motto: ‘An Attitude of Gratitude’ sums up the thought process behind the support network – the gift of thanks to all those who support it.

“Our anniversary on the very day that celebrates life is a big day for us. We wanted to celebrate our survivors, and have them hear stories of survival that give them strength and hope for the future. Because outside in the world the word cancer is a death sentence regardless of your case and that’s a huge emotional burden on anyone going through cancer. They need the side no one hears about. The bright side,” said Lama Riachi.

Born on National Cancer Survivors day with the support of Lama Younes, founder of the Hissah Enrichment Centre, Saturday’s Blessed get together had one aim – to celebrate life. And for Tinwala, sharing her story makes her feel empowered.

“It is so important to talk. I remember sitting in my hospital room undergoing chemotherapy and hearing others who weren’t so lucky. We all have to support each other at times like this.”

Talks were held by leading professionals on Saturday, including Lebanon-based Dr Layla Lahoud, preventive medicine specialist and founder of Lifeyear clinic.

“There is a lot of suffering associated with cancer when it comes to the patient and the family. There is physical suffering, and psychological and emotional suffering too.”

She said sharing stories makes people feel empowered and spreads awareness about a disease which has affected many peoples’ lives nowadays.

“But it’s not just about early detection. We have preventative medicine specialists now and people can actively lower their risk of disease.”

From simple lifestyle changes like diet and exercise to genetic testing to determine one’s risk, Dr Layla Lahoud said the “most effective way to treat cancer is before we even get it”.

Worldwide, 8.2 million people die of cancer each year. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there has been a 70 per cent increase in cancer deaths, with more than Dh293 billion spent on cancer treatments globally.

By 2021, the UAE aims to bring down cancer fatalities in the country by nearly 18 per cent. Each year approximately 4,500 new cases of cancer are reported here, totaling about 12 new cancer cases each day.

Lung cancer has been noted as a leading cause of death worldwide, and in the UAE it ranks among the top five killers. In 2015, a total of 168 patients were diagnosed with the fatal disease in the UAE.

Breast cancer is the top cancer among women worldwide and according to the International Cancer Organisation, more than 1.6 million new breast cancer cases were detected worldwide in 2014.

In the Middle East, it is the most common cause of death among women aged between 40 and 50 years, and according to the Abu Dhabi Health Authority, cervical cancer is the seventh highest cause of death of women in the UAE.

Hissah Enrichment Centre

The Hissah Enrichment Centre in Dubai was founded by Lama Younis, an advocate for children’s rights and the first criminologist and forensic psychologist in the GCC. Driven by her passion, vision and compassion, the centre aims to: enrich interpersonal skills, to develop personal empowerment, to improve social, personal and professional relationships for adults, youth and children. The centre’s progressive approach is supported by the most recent research in the art and science of psychology, thus promoting the expansion and enhancement of personal and professional life, within and beyond the workplace.

Source: Khakeej Times

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